In the remote Utopia Homelands of the NT, over the past three years, books from our Book Supply program have been helping develop school readiness among young children.
Contact Inc, based in Alice Springs, provides mobile playgroup sessions to the outlying homelands communities of Soapy Bore, Atheleye, Rocket Range and Apungdalingdum, where most families continue to live a traditional lifestyle.
There is much scope for learning — for all involved in the playgroups! — in the simplest of picture books.
“To begin the love of reading books, having visual pictures that are relevant to the age of the children, and encouraging adults to sit and look through [them] with the children, lets the children see the adult valuing a book, then they do it too,” says Gail McMurdo, the Operations Manager of the mobile playgroups. “We use the books as any early learning centre does.”
But recently the early childhood educators have begun translating the words in the books into Alyawarra, the first language in the Utopia Homelands. They’ll point at a picture and ask the parents to say the language word for it. Then they’ll repeat it for the kids.
The educators are generally corrected with a gentle laugh: “Little bit right.”
“It takes some time to get the pronunciation correct,” says Gail.
The staff persist though, and are finding that the kids are really responding to their efforts.
“They’re now coming up with a book and pointing to a picture and then to something nearby that matches.”
Given the role of the playgroups in helping the kids make the transition from “little school” to “big school” such responses are significant. The adults too are now “making time to sit and point out [to their child] things in both language and English”.
“We certainly value the books we get. They are very well received.”